• April 19, 2014

Report Urges Colleges to Emphasize Math, Science, and International Studies

Americans ages 25 to 34 are less educated, on average, than their parents' generation, and are less likely than their predecessors to earn degrees in science, technology, and mathematics, according to a new report by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

The report, "Leadership for Challenging Times," is the result of a yearlong study by the association's Presidential Leadership and Global Competitiveness commission, which consisted of 13 college presidents. It highlights some of the challenges that American higher education faces, including declining student interest in math and science, weaknesses in elementary and secondary math and science education, and the increasing cost of college.

The United States will become less globally competitive if the proportion of young people earning a college degree continues to decline, the report concludes. It goes on to say that other countries, including China and India, are putting large amounts of money into their higher-education systems, so fewer students from those countries are likely to come to the United States for a college education in the future.

Declining international enrollments at state colleges and universities would mean that such institutions "run the risk of becoming less international in character, thus diminishing the likelihood that students gain a significant understanding and appreciation of other cultures," the report says.

To fight those effects, the report recommends that colleges and universities do more to increase international awareness on their campuses, including encouraging students to learn foreign languages and study abroad. It also says that college presidents should emphasize the importance of math, science, and technology.


1. procrustes - October 27, 2009 at 04:18 pm

You forgot to add "and if the quality of degrees continues to decline." Too many college graduates leave with inadequate reading and writing skills and too little of the general knowledge required to be a responsible citizen.

2. dogstarman - October 27, 2009 at 04:18 pm

So if you are a problem solver that is not a mathematician, scientist or tech head, let's say an artist or designer, you might want to move to another country where they value what you do! Let's see how many cars you can sell designed by the math and science majors. Only college presidents would be this out of touch!

3. physicsprof - October 27, 2009 at 04:25 pm

Millenials are too spoiled by a high standard of living (unheard of in other countries USA are supposed to compete against) and shun science and other tough majors preferring liberals arts education. This and the general trend of edutainment industry towards viewing students as customers are driving educational levels down. Prosperity spoils people and is the cause of its own demise.

4. trtudor - October 27, 2009 at 04:42 pm

Universities need to do a better job of learning from their international students. Aid can be given in exchange for giving talks on their culture and their country.

5. raymond_j_ritchie - October 27, 2009 at 07:01 pm

University presidents can urge more emphasis on maths and sciences as much as they like but it is not going to have much effect. The problem is that any mug non-immigrant student can tell you that the salary, career prospects and most crucially the very poor career structure in maths and sciences makes such careers unattractive. In most western countries (including USA, Canada & Australia) most contact teaching in maths and science is done by casuals and contract labour. They have dismal career prospects, lousy pay and no job security. Students know that and draw their own conclusions. Most teachers in maths or the sciences can tell you about being abused by students for trying to talk them into doing a graduate degree in maths or science.
If university presidents were genuine with themselves and their readers they would urge moves to make maths and science careers more attractive by providing better pay, support and better job security. And not just for a few senior tenured academics who sit in their offices like old bullfrogs waiting for naive graduate students and post-docs to stumble to within their grasp. That might even attract a better kind of person than most tenured academics I know.

6. 22258596 - October 27, 2009 at 09:38 pm

More math for our students. More science. And a better understanding of the place of United States in the world. And we are arguing about this?

No wonder higher ed has so little support from the public.

7. 11239383 - October 28, 2009 at 08:13 am

More STEM coursework for students...such does make sense. The first step, of course, is to carefully undertake local evaluation to discover which subject matter areas deliver the lowest quality instruction. I'd wager my full pay from any of several furlough days that you'll find the bottom feeders to be from math, the sciences, and technology. So to paraphrase a movie line, "If you fix it, they will come."

8. rick1952 - October 28, 2009 at 11:43 am

Re post #6 - it is the public that values and rewards excessively those who are (or hope to be) stars in music, TV, cinema, athletics, etc. rather than those who possess knowledge and skills in math/science. What is the math/science equivalent for American Idol, or NCAA D-1 championships? No wonder those who struggle to increase student participation in these disciplines are climbing such a steep mountain.

Our nation needs to grow up and take responsibility for valuing what is worth valuing. Our actions need to match our words much better. If we don't want the United States of America to become a second or third rate nation by the middle of the 21st century, we need to focus on promoting and rewarding what we say we want: better educated citizens. A good step in that direction would be supporting those initiatives that strengthen student preparation for collge. Posts #5 & #7 make a lot of sense to me.

9. 22074041 - October 30, 2009 at 03:05 pm

This debate shows some confusion between majoring in math and sciences (toward a profession using these fields) and simply requiring students to study and know sufficient math and science to be able to analyze, calculate, understand, and deal with issues and policies of our day (e.g., in environment, health, demography, nuclear disarmament, physical infrastructure). Ignorance in these areas will harm not only the individual graduate, but the entire democracy (through too many uninformed choices).

As for America's place in the world, unless we internationalize our curricula (in all fields)to broaden the bandwidth of undergraduate learning,we will graduate students unready for their new global context. Experiencing abroad and hosting foreign students are great ways to expand understanding, but so too is a rich education that encompasses a wider and deeper exploration of the world's cultures. And all the liberal arts fields have the potential to do so....N.F.Collins,Ph.D.

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